2009 Los Angeles Auto Show: Preview

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2009 Los Angeles Auto Show GM Car Hero

2009 Los Angeles Auto Show GM Car Hero

Only a handful of U.S. auto shows count as important. Detroit, in January, is one; historically, New York in April has been another. But the up-and-comer is the Los Angeles Auto Show, which now occurs in late November or early December and focuses on green cars of all stripes: hybrids, electric cars, clean diesels, even vehicles powered by ethanol, natural gas, and hydrogen.

We'll cover all the green-car events from LA for you, starting tomorrow. The show is open to the public from December 4 to 13.

Meanwhile, here's our preview of selected cars and events we'll see at the 2009 LA Auto Show. We've broken down this preview into several pages:

Check back early and often for more!

2009 Los Angeles Auto Show: Small Cars

While President Barack Obama announced new and more stringent fuel economy standards this spring, consumer tastes have been moving toward smaller cars during most of the past decade. The LA Auto Show will see three crucial cars unveiled.

Ford, for one, believes that small cars and crossovers will be the largest part of the market by 2013. And that's why one of the most important new cars to be unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show will be the company's first subcompact in more than a decade.

2011 Ford Fiesta

Ford has confirmed that the European-styled Fiesta sedan and hatchback will make their U.S. debut at the 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show. Signifying its seriousness about the subcompact sector, Ford plans to build the car in North America.

Since Ford started promoting the car back in March by choosing 100 "Fiesta Movement Agents" to post and tweet about the car, more than 50,000 people have expressed interest in the Fiesta. Most important, 97% of them do not currently drive a Ford of any kind.

We've driven the 2011 Fiesta in its European version, and found it very good. The U.S.-spec cars are expected to feature a 1.6-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine, which should ensure enough pep for the American market and put the Fiesta among the most fuel efficient non-hybrids on offer.

Ford will offer its Sync communications and entertainment interface as well. We'll bring you many more details on the two new 2011 Fiesta models just as soon as we can.

2011 Chevrolet Cruze

The final production version of Chevrolet's most important new car this year will show up in Los Angeles before it goes on sale next summer. While the Volt extended-range electric car gets more attention, the 2011 Cruze is a vital vehicle if Chevy is to regain any traction in the competitive market for compact cars.

It will "eventually" replace the aging and uncompetitive Chevrolet Cobalt, which we called one of our least favorite green cars. The Cruze has more sophisticated styling language, a far more upscale interior, and details almost like those of a luxury car, GM stylists say.

The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze offers a 1.8-liter four rated at 136 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque as the base engine. But far more interesting is the optional Ecotec engine, which is smaller, at 1.4 liters, but more powerful: 138 horsepower and a much beefier 148 pound-feet of torque. The power comes from the combination of direct injection and turbocharging, and it's possible that engine could return as much as 40 miles per gallon in the EPA highway cycle.

2011 Mazda2

While subcompact hatchbacks remain a small piece of the U.S. market, Mazda's still keen on capturing its slice of future sales. So while the Ford Fiesta makes its way to market, the 2011 Mazda2--which is based on the same "platform"--is getting a showcase in LA as well.

The same Fiesta understructure is covered with a zoomy Mazda body here, lightly restyled with Mazda's "smile" front grille and bumper treatment.

The Mazda2's lightweight body, excellent handling, and good fuel efficiency even in a class of gasoline-sippers should make it a sporty alternative to the Honda Fit and the forthcoming 2012 Volkswagen Polo.

Going on sale in the fall of 2010, the 2011 Mazda2 is widely expected to sticker at a base price of less than $15,000.

2009 Los Angeles Auto Show: Hybrids and Electric Cars

2011 Chevrolet Volt

Last year, well before General Motors went into (and came out of) bankruptcy, our sister site TheCarConnection.com brought you the first photos anywhere of the real Chevy Volt.

At this year's Los Angeles Auto Show, GM's new plug-in, extended-range electric vehicle (technically, it's not a "hybrid") will finally see the light of day after more than a year of teases.

The 2011 Volt's 16-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack gives 40 miles of electric range, with the gasoline engine providing enough power to run the car's electric motor for a few hundred miles more.

General Motors says the Volt will roll off production lines preciselyi 12 months from now, with cars appearing in selected dealerships before the end of 2010. Top speed is 100 mph, but don't expect dramatically quick acceleration figures.

GM has issued a steady stream of news items to keep the Volt in the spotlight. The latest covered the car's pedestrian-alert system, to alleviate the concerns of blind pedestrians that in electric mode, the Volt and other cars would be too quiet to hear coming.

Last week, we sat down with Volt Vehicle Line Director Tony Posawatz and got updates on the latest state of the Volt world.

Toyota Prius Plug-In

2010 Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid Concept

2010 Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid Concept

By the end of this month, Toyota is expected to have delivered at least a few of the 150 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrids it has promised to U.S. fleets. The company officially unveiled the Prius Plug-In at September's Frankfurt Motor Show, but this will be its first U.S. showing.

Toyota is still hesitant about full electrification, and skeptical about the lifespan of lithium-ion battery packs. But private owners and fleets have now converted several hundred Prius models to plug-ins on their own, so Toyota clearly felt in needed to stay ahead of the latest technology.

The Prius Plug-In can supposedly achieve electric speeds up to 60 miles per hour, and a range of as much as 12 miles, but those two aren't likely to occur at the same time. Under many conditions, the Prius Plug-In will run pretty much like a standard 2010 Toyota Prius.

Audi E-Tron Concept

Audi's audacious two-seater electric supercar will make its first U.S. appearance at the Los Angeles Auto Show. It's based on the regular R8 sports car, with the side "blade" styling gone, a unique grille, a custom interior, LED headlights, and bright red paint.

But it's the quoted performance figures that make this car into formidable competition for the Tesla Roadster. Among its four electric motors, one per wheel, the total torque is an almost incomprehensible 3300 foot-pounds, though the combined power of the motors is "just" 230 kilowatts (313 horsepower).

Audi quotes acceleration from 0 to 62 miles per hour in 4.8 seconds. The water-cooled lithium-ion battery pack, mounted behind the passenger cabin--where the R8 engine sits--holds 42.4 kilowatt-hours of usable energy out of a 53-kWh total. Top speed is electronically limited to 124 miles per hour, which is said to keep range above a minimum of 150 miles.

Porsche Cayenne Hybrid

Though shocking to purists, Porsche is serious about its plans for a 2012 Porsche Cayenne Hybrid sport-utility vehicle. But if there's any city in the world where "Porsche" and "Hybrid" would go together like "skinny" and "latte," it's Los Angeles.

The techncial details of Porsche's hybrid system are clever, and the 2012 Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid is likely to share much of the same system. It features a supercharged, direct-injection, 333-horsepower 3.0-liter V6 engine with a 38-kilowatt (52-hp) electric motor mounted between the back of the engine and an 8-speed automatic.

The electric motor provides 221 lb-ft of torque, two-thirds as much as the engine itself. But Porsche's unique feature is that, unlike most hybrids, its system is tuned for maximum electric assist at highway speeds rather than city driving. The company claims the Cayenne Hybrid can "sail" on all-electric power at speeds as high as 86 miles per hour.

2012 Nissan Leaf

Nissan is not displaying any of its cars at the 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show, but you can bet that the 2012 Nissan Leaf will be seen around and about the premises.

The company has been touring the 2012 Leaf around in the various cities and regions where it will initially launch the vehicle.

A five-seat hatchback about the size of a compact car, the Leaf is said to offer the interior space of a mid-size vehicle like the 2010 Toyota Prius hybrid. It is a dedicated electric car, meaning it doesn't share body panels with any gasoline vehicle.

Nissan claims a range of 100 miles when its 24-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack is fully charged. An 80-kilowatt (108-horsepower) electric motor powers the front wheels. The company expects to sell 20,000 Leaf models in its first year on sale.

2010 Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid

The S400 Hybrid full-size sedan, launched late last year and now reaching U.S. dealers, is the world's first production hybrid car to use a lithium-ion battery.

And Mercedes-Benz has managed to achieve impressive fuel efficiency from what is, after all, a large, luxurious, heavy full-size luxury sedan. The EPA rates the S400 Hybrid's gas mileage at 19 miles per gallon city, 24 mpg highway. That compares to 14 mpg city, 21 mpg highway for the S500, the next model in the S-Class lineup.

The Mercedes-Benz system mounts a thin 15-kW electric motor between the 275-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 engine and the standard Mercedes-Benz seven-speed automatic transmission.

As a mild hybrid, its electric motor contributes torque under heavy engine loads, restarts the engine, and even provides a small amount of initial torque to move the car away from a stop to 2 or 3 miles per hour. But the S400 Hybrid cannot power itself solely on electric power.

2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6

For its first-ever hybrid vehicle, BMW's goal was "to build the BMW of hybrids," said said Peter Tünnermann, project manager for the 2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6. There would be no compromises in power, performance, or driving experience.

The resulting vehicle--BMW calls it a hybrid sports activity coupe--turned out to be the most powerful hybrid in the world. It produces 485 horsepower and 575 foot-pounds of torque, from a combination of a 407-hp, 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V8 engine and two electric motors of 67 and 63 kilowatts (91 and 86 hp).

The hybrid hardware, which is built in Germany and shared with Mercedes-Benz for its M450 Hybrid, uses similar components and much of the software of the Two-Mode Hybrid system developed jointly by General Motors, Chrysler, Daimler, and BMW.

But BMW has radically altered the control software, to simulate the driving experience of a seven-speed automatic transmission, although three of the seven "gears" are actually a combination of electric and mechanical torque.

2010 Mercedes-Benz ML450 Hybrid

2010 Mercedes-Benz ML450 Hybrid

2010 Mercedes-Benz ML450 Hybrid

Also on display at the 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show will be the 2010 Mercedes-Benz ML450 Hybrid. The U.S.-built sport utility vehicle shares with the BMW ActiveHybrid X6 a German version of the Two-Mode Hybrid system that was jointly developed by GM, Daimler, Chrysler, and BMW.

Unlike BMW, which stresses performance, Mercedes-Benz has fitted the Two-Mode system to a 275-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6. The combined power of the engine and two electric motors is 340 horsepower, roughly similar to the ML550 version powered by a gasoline V-8 engine.

Fuel efficiency, however, is far better: The ML450 Hybrid is rated at 21 mpg city / 24 mpg highway, almost half again as good as the gas mileage of the V-8 model.

2010 BMW ActiveHybrid 7

The 2010 BMW 7-Series Hybrid luxury sedan is a mild hybrid, meaning that its electric motor restarts the engine after it shuts off at stops and also adds torque to assist the gasoline engine. But unlike such full hybrids as the ActiveHybrid X6, it cannot travel on the electric power alone from its lithium-ion battery pack.

The ActiveHybrid 7 follows the S400 Hybrid sedan from Mercedes-Benz, the world's first production hybrid car to use a lithium-ion battery. Car and Driver tested the 7-Series hybrid, saying it "seems to actually make sense" [sic] compared to certain other improbable vehicles in "Bavaria's barrage of the bizarre."

Similar to the title of "most powerful hybrid in the world" for its ActiveHybrid X6, BMW calls the hybrid version of the 7-Series sedan "the fastest hybrid sedan in the world.

2009 Los Angeles Auto Show: Clean Diesels

2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI

2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI

2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI

VW has more than 20 years' experience selling small diesels to U.S. buyers, and excitement around the return of the Golf TDI is palpable.

That car always does well in GreenCarReports.com's monthly most popular articles lists, and as we often note, we think it will be one of the biggest clean diesel winners in the U.S. market.

The 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show will be the first major showing of the 2010 Golf TDI. It will join the 2010 VW Jetta TDI sedan and Sportwagen models, which have been slightly restyled over their 2009 counterparts.

2010 Mercedes-Benz E350 Bluetec

2010 Mercedes-Benz E350 Coupe

2010 Mercedes-Benz E350 Coupe

Most of the attention at the Mercedes-Benz booth will likely be focused on the B-Class F-Cell, a compact hatchback powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. Unlike other carmakers, many of whom have put their hydrogen fuel-cell research into a lower gear, Mercedes-Benz is going forward with a plan to launch a test fleet in the U.S. early next year.

The B-Class F-cell is said to provide better performance than a 2.0-liter gasoline car, with zero emissions and a range of 240 miles from its tank of compressed hydrogen.

But the more important vehicle will be the 2010 Mercedes-Benz E350 Bluetec clean diesel sedan. It is expected to deliver fuel efficiency as much as 30 percent better than the comparable E350 gasoline sedan. It joins clean-diesel versions of the ML five-seat crossover, the seven-seat GL sport utility, and the R-Class crossover in the 2010 lineup for Mercedes-Benz.

2009 Los Angeles Auto Show: Other Notable Cars

2011 Buick Regal

Why would GreenCarReports.com ever feature a Buick sedan as a green car?

Well, the 2011 Buick Regal that's getting its first official showing at the 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show is significant because it's at the cutting edge of the trend toward smaller engines that have higher outputs and are far more fuel-efficient than the larger lumps they replace.

The Regal--a lightly restyled version of the well-received Opel Insignia sold in Europe-- was originally going to be the new Saturn Aura in the U.S. It launches with two engine options, both of them with only four cylinders.

The base engine in the Regal CXL is a new, 182-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder, but the significant one is the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, which puts out a walloping 220 hp. As such, it's almost as powerful as a V-6, but significantly lighter. Buick estimates the smaller four will return 30 highway miles per gallon, while the turbo engine should be rated at 29 mpg highway by the EPA.

For 2012, Buick promises other versions of the Regal, which probably means a V-6 engine option. A six-speed automatic is the sole gearbox, standard on both, with a manual shift mode.

2011 Toyota Sienna

The shrinking minivan market is now dominated by Toyota, Honda, and Chrysler, with other makers offering crossovers instead. But even minivans have to be updated, and both Japanese makers are coming up on their new 2011 models.

Toyota will build its latest Sienna on the same platform as the Camry sedan and Highlander sport utility. Why does that matter? Because it offers the possibility that at least one carmaker, at last, might introduce a hybrid minivan.

It's one of the most frequently asked questions here at GreenCarReports.com: Does anyone make a hybrid minivan? Despite 11 years' worth of hybrids on the U.S. market, the answer so far is always "no". But given Toyota's pledge to offer hybrid models of every mass-market vehicle it sells, a hybrid minivan is far from fantasy.

The new Sienna will begin production as a 2011 model in January 2010; it will be built at Toyota's facility in Princeton, Indiana. As for any possible hybrid version, watch this space ....

2009 Los Angeles Auto Show: Stay Updated

2009 Los Angeles Auto Show GM Car Hero

2009 Los Angeles Auto Show GM Car Hero

GreenCarReports.com and other sites within the High Gear Media network will be reporting live from Los Angeles to make sure you don't miss a beat.

We're armed with cameras and voice recorders, and we'll be wearing really comfortable shoes and our old jacket with lots of pockets.

Bookmarks: Follow our Los Angeles auto show tag and this 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show page for updates

Twitter: @GreenCarReports, @HighGearMedia

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